Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

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The next night, John McVie and a crew member who is over six feet tall stand in the aisle of the hotel bar, blocking my exit. "Just one more drink," they insist. McVie orders a vodka and tonic, and I try a British favorite, Pimm's No. 1 Cup. "Drink it with soda and a slice of cucumber," he advises. "A perfect drink for sitting on the dock, watching the sun go down. But not very alcoholic. You won't catch me near the stuff."

Three years ago, McVie told an interviewer, "I drink too much, period . . . but when I've drunk too much, a personality comes out. It's not very pleasant to be around." He is not at all like that tonight – perhaps his remarriage and the passage of a few years have taken some of his edge off. At any rate, McVie is not merely pleasant; he is endearing.

"I'm – let's see, how old am I now? I'm thirty-four. I'm getting up there, yes? You look at yourself in the mirror and watch the wrinkles coming in, one by one. . . ."

After McVie finished recording his bass parts on Tusk, he took a boat and a small crew and set sail from Los Angeles for Maui while the album was being finished. "There is a point on that course, about a thousand miles out," he remembers, "where you are farther from land than at any other point on the planet. Really puts you in your place. I went out on the deck at that point and looked around, and all I could think was, 'Well John, this is how far you have to go to get away from being John McVie of Fleetwood Mac."'

He leans forward and looks into his glass. He has been John McVie of Fleetwood Mac for twelve years. By now, we are both quite wasted, to the point where it does not seem ridiculous to ask him if he is truly happy with the way things have turned out.

"Happy? I'm ecstatic! I am playing with my favorite people in the world. What more could anybody ask for?" He looks up and stares at me, hard. "I love this band."

The Salt Lake City performance is the third one of the tour, and the ends are a little ragged. Nicks' voice sounds strong, and the band is playing well, but they are tentative with the new material, and the pace lags. But by the time they play Madison Square Garden in New York three weeks later, the pieces have fallen into place. Buckingham, especially, is confident and playful onstage, punctuating his "Not That Funny" with a series of whooping, David Byrne-ish no-no-no's. "Tusk" has become a show-stopping romp, and during the instrumental jam on "I'm So Afraid," John McVie and Buckingham get so worked up they start chasing each other around the stage, butting their heads into each other's chests like a couple of deranged reindeer. It is a highly professional show, with good playing that is still loose enough to be fun.

And yet, I feel as if something is missing. I suppose I am waiting for the electricity that occurs when band members test the limits of their relationship and discover the bonds are all the stronger for the wear. Twice that week in New York, I attend Fleetwood Mac concerts hoping for another moment like the one when the band played "The Chain" in rehearsal. There are none.

Mick Fleetwood, on what he would do if the band broke up: "Darling! I've no idea. I've been asked that for years. Sometimes I think I would carry on; I probably would. People must think, 'He's sick. He must be kidding.' But why not? That's what we do. Why should it stop?

"We're already talking about making the next album. So unless there's some secret that nobody's telling me about. . . ."

In a private plane that's passing through a storm somewhere over the Rocky Mountains, Lindsey Buckingham, Richard Dashut and I are discussing Talking Heads' Fear of Music, an album they both like a lot. Across the table, John McVie cringes when he hears the words New Wave. "Is that punk rock?" he asks, feigning horror, then slumps over and pretends to sleep.

Buckingham and Dashut have never seen Talking Heads perform, so I am trying to describe what the band is like. The lead singer has spasms onstage, I explain, and the bass player and the drummer are married to each other.

McVie wakes up. "Did you say married to each other? You mean, this band has a man and wife, a couple in it?"

There is a long, irony-charged silence. In the back of the cabin, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are wrapped in blankets, asleep. The plane engines drone. McVie takes a sip of his drink and mumbles something.

"Oh. We ought to mail these people a Fleetwood Mac biography. Labeled Beware!"

McVie looks at Buckingham and grins. What can they be thinking about? I look outside the cabin window: snow-covered hills. And realize that I don't want to know.

Sometime later during the plane ride, Lindsey Buckingham pulls out a portfolio. He used to be an art major, he explains, and he still does artwork: photo collages he makes by tampering with Polaroid SX-70 negatives. "I'm real insecure about what I do," he says. He takes out five or six small rectangles that are shaded with color, but do not resemble anything in particular, and spreads them out in front of him. "Having something else to do besides music that you can do all right sort of makes you feel all right about the music." By now, he has arranged the negatives in such a way that you can see each one is only a piece of the whole work. "Most artists are insecure, I suppose. Insecure overachievers." He lays the final negative down, and there is a completed picture on the table.

This is a story from the February 7th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

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